Expert Articles

The Reggio Emilia Approach in a Nutshell

Author: Betty Yau
Principal, Fairchild Nursery and Kindergarten

Many families will be familiar with the Montessori method, but have you heard of the Reggio Emilia approach?  This is also a learning philosophy which has its roots in Italy.  After the end of the second world war, a group of parents decided they wanted an alternative education style and worked together under the guidance of the founder, Loris Malaguzzi, to develop a new educational approach.

Malaguzzi, penned a poem ‘The 100 Languages of Children’ in which he acknowledged the ‘infinite ways that children can express, explore, and connect their thoughts, feelings and imaginings’. The poem illustrates the myriad of methods and mediums that children seek out in order to express their ideas, theories, thoughts, feelings, frustrations, discoveries, understanding and knowledge.

Advocates of the Reggio Emilia Approach, establish a culture of respect, and children learn to share their ideas, reflections and daily experiences through collaboration.  In this way, they can negotiate, learn to problem-solve, communicate, develop critical thinking skills, all of which help prepare children for the future.  

Educators within the Reggio inspired philosophy encourage children to be active learners and engage in every stage of their learning.  They believe children are capable of constructing their own learning, and help develop a project according to their interests. To be confident, children need to be comfortable about sharing their own knowledge, as well as having the ability to think for themselves.  In a project about turtles, for example, K2 children did their own research about turtles, designed their own turtle tank prototypes, visited Hong Kong Park to see them in nature, then went shopping for a bigger new turtle tank!  They learned about camouflage and animal habitats.  Through this child-led process,  there are no limits to what the children create as they learn.

Every child has infinite potential to discover, to learn and to communicate. Children do this in many different ways including drawing, playing, painting, writing, sculpting, construction, dance, music, movement, role playing, drama – even reasoning, listening, laughing, crying, and loving. The possibilities are endless and joyful.

A child’s view of themselves is largely shaped by their interactions and experiences with peers around them. Parents, teachers and friends in a child’s life play a vital role in developing their self-esteem and building up a healthy sense of self, supporting how children see their place in the world.   It’s no surprise that the quality of the interactions a child experiences has a huge impact on a child’s critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Relationships are the key to these interactions and both parents and teachers alike become partners in a child’s learning and development.  Community collaboration is therefore important to how a child makes sense of the work around them.  In a Reggio Emilia inspired setting, the child is viewed as a human in their own right, and so it becomes the responsibility of the whole community to support children and their healthy growth.  

We want children to be creative, as that’s what makes us unique.  We need to continue to innovate, sharing new ideas and thinking out of the box,  aspects which are increasingly important in the workplace of the future.  Within the Reggio Emilia approach, we use “100 languages” enabling many different ways for children to express themselves, such as music and moment, nature or sensory play, drama play, cooking and so much more.   Children have a natural curiosity to learn and find out more and through hands-on processes, and children not only learn about real world issues such as recycling, but also about caring for nature, and the environment.

The role of the environment is important too within the Reggio Emilia inspired approach.  A child’s immediate environment becomes their playground and what is referred to as “the third teacher”.  Early childhood settings, either at home or at school are thoughtfully planned and designed to promote inquiry and curiosity.  We wish to pique children’s interest to learn, all the time.   A child’s play is sophisticated – it involves talking, listening, exploring, making choices and connections, measuring, counting, storytelling, taking turns, singing, making friends, testing theories, reading, laughing, and learning all the time. 

Children only have one childhood; there is no second chance.  At this early childhood stage, social and emotional skills are the most important in order to allow children to develop self regulation. Academics will come later, and if children learn in a happy setting, the learning naturally follows.  A love for learning and joy in coming to school sets the foundation for future positive outcomes.  To learn to read, children must first enjoy listening to stories and understanding them, hearing the words and rhythm of language before they learn the actual letters and sounds.  We must allow children to develop at their own pace, using our thoughtfully designed learning activities, giving children time in nature and  outdoors to pique their natural curiosity.  Play is the vehicle for all this to happen, and is crucial to a child’s happy and  healthy development.

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The Reggio Emilia Approach in a Nutshell